Officials push for more oil train safety

Adirondack Daily Enterprise | May 1, 2014 | Column by Matthew Turner

At 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, a CSX train carrying about a dozen tankers derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, catching fire and spilling oil into the James River.


Shortly before the accident that same day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had sent a letter and series of state agency reports to President Barack Obama, recommending older tanker cars like the DOT-111 be removed from the tracks, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer had held a press conference to discuss his concerns on the issue.

In January, Cuomo had ordered state agencies to evaluate how effectively the state be able to combat a tanker disaster like one last year in Lac Magentic, Quebec, where an explosion killed 47 people. He sent these agencies' report to Washington Wednesday.

Schumer held a press conference Wednesday asking the federal government to require more open communication for railroad companies to share the contents of their cargo with local emergency first responders.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Lynchburg, and I hope this serves as a wake-up call to federal regulators that outmoded tank cars need to be retrofitted or completely phased out," Schumer wrote in a follow-up statement later in the day.

Schumer said he witnessed a "dangerous and shocking lack of information sharing" in Lac Magentic.

"The same is true here in the U.S.," he said in a conference call.

In Essex County, some information sharing has begun. Don Jaquish, the county's director of emergency services, said Canadian Pacific just recently supplied him with a list of 25 dangerous commodities transported on its rail line that skirts the shoreline of Lake Champlain.

"That was after we made requests," Jaquish said. "We are not allowed to share the list publicly, unfortunately; they gave it to us with the requirement we cannot share the list."

The railroad company, however, is not sharing their emergency response plans with the county.

"Yes, we would want the company to disclose everything," Schumer said, when asked about this.

Canadian Pacific owns 14,700 miles of track in Canada and the United States, including a railway that runs from Canada south along Lake Champlain and the upper Hudson River. In Essex County, communities like Port Henry, Essex, Ticonderoga and Crown Point are in the railroad's path. An increase in Bakken crude oil is coming from North Dakota to New York.

Jaquish said he can see Schumer's point about making the chemical information readily available to first-responders across the state. He also said he does not know the company's schedule for transporting dangerous commodities.

Ron Jackson, the fire chief in the town of Essex, said he doesn't always agree with Schumer - he's the chairman of the county's Republican Party committee, and Schumer is a Democrat - but on this he does.

"Other trains in other communities don't know," Jackson said of the dangerous commodities shipped on railroads.

In Essex, the railroad stretches about 12 miles north to south through Jackson's town. He said trains have derailed there twice in his lifetime.

"Both the crude oil and ethanol trains, all the trains we worry about," Jackson said. "Our first thing we are worried about is evacuation, getting people downwind from the accident out."

Jackson said the crude oil shipments are "pretty much regular" in Essex, but it may not be the case in other communities. On average, he said, six trains with crude, with about 100 cars, pass through a day.

Ed Greenberg, the director of external affairs with Canadian Pacific, declined to comment directly on Schumer's proposal.

"For Canadian Pacific, safety is of the highest priority," Greenberg said. "Each year we move hundreds of carloads. ... We have a rigorous safety system in place for everything we do."

Greenberg said his company wants to continue strengthening operating protocols and procedures, which includes collaboration with federal regulators and local first responders.

"We readily provide commodity flow and specifics," Greenberg said. "We will share that info with local first responders to be prepared for any information."

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.